A survey of the top posters on lesswrong

by Elo 4 min read11th Jun 201542 comments


In a post recently someone mentioned that there was a list of "Top 15" posters by karma.  That inspired me to send all of them this note:


I am messaging you (now) because you are one of the 15 top contributors of the past 30 days of LW.

I was wondering if you do any time tracking; or if you have any idea how much time you spend on LW. (i.e. rescuetime)

I have made the choice to spend more of my time engaging with LW and am wondering how much you (and your other top peers) spend. And also why?

Maybe you want to rate each of these out of 10; the reasons you partake in LW discussions:


  1. Make the world better (raising the sanity waterline etc) 
  2. Fun (spend my spare time here) 
  3. Friends (here because my Real-Life is here; and so I come to hang with my friends - or my internet friends hang out here) 
  4. Gather rationality (maybe you still gather rationality from LW; maybe you have gathered most of what you can and now are creating your own craft)
  5. here for new ideas (LW being a good place to share new ideas) 
  6. here to advertise an idea (promoting a line of thinking from elsewhere - could be anything from; more Effective Altruism; to this book) 
  7. Here to create my own craft. (from the craft and the community) 
  8. other? (as many other's as you like)


In addition do you think people (others) should participate more or less in the ongoing conversation? (or stay about as much as they are?) And would you give any particular message to others?

Do you feel like your time spent is effective?

I wonder if this small sample; once gathered will yield anything useful. with your permission I would like to publish your responses (anonymised for your protection) if either something interesting comes out; or nothing interesting (publish the null result)

Please add as many comments as you can :).

I'd also like to thank you for being a part of keeping the community active. I find it a good garden with many friends.

Sincerely, E

(Disclaimer: I have no affiliation to rescue time I just like their tracking system)

As of the time of this post; I have received 10 replies.  I waited an extra week or two and there were no more replies after about 2-3 days.

The funny thing about asking for something is that people don't always answer in the way that you want them to answer.  (Mostly I blame myself and the way I asked; but I think its quite funny really that several replies did not include a rating out of 10)

1. Make the world better.

as was pointed out to me by one of the responses: "Mostly this is low because of ambiguity over "the world"", responses were; 0,2,6,y,y. of which I assume the other 5 were, 0,0,0,0,0.


2. fun.

Several replies included that this was a most productive time sink they could think of.  replies were y,y,y,10,10,8. One other person said they used LW as procrastination.  one said, "it's a reasonably interesting way of killing time".


3. friends

answers: y, 0, "4-more like acquaintances", 5.  Some people mentioned local meetups but also that they don't interact online with those people.  I suppose if you are here for friends you are kinda doing it wrong; here to not get yelled at and to understand things is more accurate of a description.  "I treat LW like a social club and a general place to hang out"


4. learn rationality

y,y but doubt it, 5 - a bit, 5.  I expected most of the top posters to have already achieved a level of rationality where they would be searching elsewhere for it.  I assume the others would be 0/n or close.


5. new ideas

.3,4,8 (assume 7*0). I guess the top don't think innovation happens here.  Which is interesting because I thing it does.


6. advertise ideas

.1,"6 - generally", (assuming 8*0).  I was concerned that the active members might be pushing an agenda or something.  Its entirely possible, but seems to not be the case.


7. create craft

.8,7.  I would have thought someone motivated to be increasing the craft of rationality would be here for that purpose.  I guess not.

" I'm not sure to what extent I'm creating my own craft, but it's a good question. At the very least I'm acquiring a better ability to ask whether something makes sense. "


8. other

Two people mentioned that this is a place of quality, or high thinking, they are here for the reasonableness or lack of unreasonableness of the participants.

open questions:

effective time: most responses to this were in the range of, "better than other rubbish on the internet", and "least bad time sink I can think of".

more or less posts: two people suggested more; one suggested less but of higher quality.  They all understand the predicament of the thing.

Time tracking: several people track, and others estimate between 30mins and 3hours a day.

Bearing in mind that the top posting positions are selected on multiple factors including whether or not people have time, not just relating to their effectiveness or their *most rational* status.  I don't believe this selection of people have said anything much helpful, other than 


some quotes:

" LW gives you the opportunity to share your ideas with a large number of smart people who will help you discard or sharpen them without you having to go to the trouble of maintaining a personal blog. A good post has the opportunity to deliver a lot of value to some very smart and altruistically motivated people. Becoming a respected LW contributor takes a lot of intelligence, thought, research, writing skill, and hard work. Many try but few succeed. "


" I am pretty much an internet discussion board addict"


"Suppose LW is just a forum where a bunch of smart people hang out and talk about whatever interests them, which is frequently potentially-important (effective altruism, AI safety) or intellectually interesting (decision theory, maths of AI safety) or practically useful (akrasia, best-textbooks-on-X threads). That seems to me like enough to be valuable"


"My karma comes from thousands of comments, not from meaningful articles."


"I feel there is a power law distribution to LW contributor value with some people like Eliezer, Yvain, and lukeprog making many high-quality posts. So I think the most important thing is for people like that to get “discovered”. It may take some leveling up for them to get to that point though, and encouragement for them to spend time cranking out lots of posts that are high-quality."


" I feel like if we gave top LW posters more recognition that could incentivize the production of more great content, and becoming a top poster with a high % upvoted genuinely seems like a strong challenge and an indicator of superior potential, if achieved, to me."


"As a rule, though, I do not believe that LW has much to do with refining human rationality."


"I think that written reflection is a useful way to engage with new ideas. LW provides a venue to discuss ideas with smart people who care about published evidence."


"I post on Less Wrong primarily because I'm a forum-poster, and this is the forum most relevant to my interests. If I stopped finding forum-posting satisfying, or found a more relevant forum, I'd probably move there and only rarely check LW."


"I think people should participate more. I view LW as a forum and not as a library."

In summary: what I think I have gathered.

The top posters don't think they or lesswrong is effective at changing the world; however this is a nice place to hang out.  I don't know what an effective place would look like but it is almost certainly not this place.  I don't see LW as being worth quitting or shutting down without a *better* alternative.  As a place striving to propagate rationality; that is debatable.  As a garden of healthy discussions and reasonable people remembering that their opposing factions are also reasonable people with different idea - this place deserves a medal.  If only we could hone the essence of reasonableness and share it around to people.  I feel that might be the value of lesswrong.

LW is a system built of people staying, "while its good" as soon as it is no longer as nice of a garden they will be gone.

I hope this helps someone else as well as me.

In light of the discussions about improving this place; I hope this helps contribute to the discussion.